Colorful characters, revered championships, staged fights ... the rink shares plenty with the squared circle. So here at Puck Daddy, we've decided to preview the 2010-11 NHL season with the help of old-school wrestling icons, images and lingo. It's a slobber-knocker, Mean Gene...
Last Season (27-47-8, 62 points; 5th in Northwest, 15th in the Conference)
It wasn't supposed to be like that for the Edmonton Oilers last season. Sure they weren't expected to make the playoffs, but the last-place finish in all of the NHL helped a youth movement that's expected to help the franchise turn things around.
When Nikolai Khabibulin(notes) went down in November, he never came back to the Oilers crease and Jeff Deslauriers(notes) and Devan Dubnyk(notes) were left to try and salvage the rest of the season. Not long after Khabibulin was injured, the Oilers went into the deepest of slumps taking four points out of a possible 42 over a 21-game span. From there, all eyes began to shift on the Draft Lottery.
It wasn't just Khabibulin's injury that did the Oilers in; Sheldon Souray(notes), Mike Comrie(notes) and Ales Hemsky(notes) were just a few of the names that helped Edmonton lead the NHL in man-games lost with nearly 500.
There will also be a transition in leadership behind the bench as Pat Quinn was given an advisor role and associate coach Tom Renney was given full reign.
To make room for guys like Hall, Jordan Eberle(notes) and Magnus Paajarvi, the Oilers let forwards Mike Comrie, Fernando Pisani(notes) move on, while team captain Ethan Moreau(notes) was waived and picked up by Columbus. Robert Nilsson(notes) was bought out and Ryan Potulny(notes) and Marc Pouliot(notes) were not qualified. Forward Patrick O'Sullivan(notes) was dealt to Phoenix and later bought out himself by the Coyotes.
Defenseman Sheldon Souray was placed on waivers and one of these days he'll finally be traded out of Edmonton. But with another two years and $10.8 million remaining on his deal, GM Steve Tambellini may find it hard to offload his unhappy defenseman.
Kurtis Foster(notes) came off a career-high season with 42 points and penned a two-year deal on July 1st. His long road back from a broken femur in 2008 paid off for him in 71 games with Tampa Bay last season.
Defenseman Jim Vandermeer(notes) was acquired in the O'Sullivan deal and at first it was believe he too was going to be bought out, turns out the Oilers kept him and will likely make him a top-4 blueliner.
The return of Ales Hemsky from shoulder surgery should bring a boost to the Oilers' offense, but one question will be if Dustin Penner(notes) canbuild on his career season from 2009-10 where he scored 32 goals and led the team with 63 points. Penner started the season hot, but trailed off in the second half.
Outside of those two the offense drops off, but could be injected with life by rookies Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi and Jordan Eberle.
Wrestler(s) That Best Symbolize the Team
When Christian started his career with The Brood, he was still a little rough around the edges, but there was potential. It wasn't until he broke away from Edge and Gangrel that he truly began experiencing success. Same with the Oilers. They've trimmed some fat and have a young trio of players just entering the league that could be the core of the team for years to come.
There was no worse defense in the NHL last year than the Edmonton Oilers. Allowing 278 goals and having just eight out of 30 player who played a game for the team finish as plus players meant that red lights in Edmonton and around the league were busy when the Oilers were on the ice. Subtract defensive forwards like Moreau and Pisani from the lineup and progress in that area doesn't look promising.
What's lacking on the Oilers blueline is a pure shutdown defenseman. Ryan Whitney(notes), Tom Gilbert(notes), Ladislav Smid(notes), and Kurtis Foster do not possess that ability. Given the uncertainly in goal with Khabibulin's situation and a lack of an upgrade in defense, red lights will once again be busy whenthe Oilers are around.
Despite a 30-day jail sentence for drunk-driving, Nikolai Khabibulin has appealed the ruling and will be at training camp. Recovering from surgery to fix a herniated disk in his back, Khabibulin has been back on the ice, but it's unknown when a resolution of his appeal could happen. There's a chance he may have to serve his sentence during the season or next summer.
Ready to step in should for Khabibulin is the three-headed monster of Devan Dubnyk, Jeff Deslauriers and Martin Gerber. Deslauriers took the bulk of the work load last season when Khabibulin went down, while it took 14 appearances for Dubnyk to earn his first NHL victory.
The 36-year old Gerber should fill a vagabond role traveling between Edmonton and Oklahoma City as injury/poor play insurance.
Match We'd Pay To Watch
We could have hadan all-hyphenated name three-way match featuring Jean-Francois Jacques(notes), Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson(notes) and Jeff Drouin-Delsauriers, but the latter two dropped the extra letters.
Instead we'll settle for watching Linus Omark take shootout attempts all day.
An endless amount of pressure on his shoulders won't keep Taylor Hall from beginning the franchise turn around that's expected from the 2010-11 Oilers rookie class. The No. 1 overall pick in last June's draft will be given ample opportunity to play and transfer his dominance of the junior game to the NHL.
A fast start by Dustin Penner last season soon faded, but the forward still led the team with 32 goals and 63 points. Is he up for shouldering the offensive load again? He'll get some help with Hall and a full-season of Hemsky, but Penner will get a lot of attention unless Edmonton's secondary scorers can provide adequate backup.
Hopefully Hemsky's return from shoulder surgery doesn't make him hesitant to bring back moves like this. It's sort of like Hulk Hogan's big boot and The Rock's "People's Elbow": lots of razzle dazzle during the setup, but in the end, just a simple, fundamental move that works when executed.
The Oilers were 18th on the power play with no help from noted specialist Sheldon Souray, who contributed zero goals in 37 games last season. Other than Lubomir Visnovsky(notes) (four), only Tom Gilbert, Aaron Johnson(notes) and Denis Grebeshkov(notes) added power play tallies from the blueline. With Johnson, Visnovsky and Grebeshkov gone, who will help supply the man-advantage offense from the back?
Ranked 26th in the NHL shorthanded (78%), Edmonton heads into the 2010-11 season without Pisani and Moreau, two of their top penalty killers. Having new blood on the roster can only help improve.
Gone upstairs is Pat Quinn. Enter Tom Renney, who turned around the New York Rangers for a few seasons and helped developed their young players. With a handful of youngsters in Edmonton this season, promoting Renney to head coach is good timing.
GM Steve Tambellini has gotten rid of some dead weight from the Oilers roster this summer to make room for some new blood. There's still the little issue of Sheldon Souray's future to deal with and given his age and contract, if Tambellini can move him for anything might helped him win over some more Oilers fans.
2010-11 Preseason Report Card:
Special Teams: D
Main Event or Dark Match? (Prediction)
Trying to find success while inserting a handful of new faces, let alone three rookies, into the Oilers roster won't translate into a ton of victories. The last playoff game Edmonton was involved in was Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup final and the waiting will continue for another while, but having a rookie core of Hall, Paajarvi and Eberle in place and developing, that will give GM Steve Tambellini something to build around.
Edmonton Oilers' Entrance Music to the 2010-11 Season
The Miz's "I Came to Play" could be one of those cheesy marketing themes that team's come up with to get their fans excited about the upcoming season. Edmonton will be selling the future with Taylor Hall front and center. They'll come to play, but the Oilers fanbase will once again have to exude patience ... something Miz's Real World often needed to do.